It is always nice to rattle the old netminder memory banks, do a little research, and “catch-up” with an aged puckstopper. Flashback Friday brings you an old Capitals goalie that seemingly faded away behind the mask.
While shuffling out of Staples Center after the Capitals recent emotional overtime loss (coming back to extract a point from a game in which they trailed 3-0 after the first), I was shocked to see an amazing throwback jersey on an LA area Capitals fan. The old and remarkably not-so-loved sea-foam blue “flying eagle” road Caps jersey sported the number 30, for once “Net Detective” Jim “Ace” Carey. I immediately pointed it out to another Caps fan in our group, and he said “What ever happened to THAT guy..?”
Jim Carey, not to be confused with Hollywood funny man Jim Carrey (Alllllll-righty then!), once had a meteoric rise to fame in Washington, won a Vezina Trophy for his stellar play, and then flamed out of the league almost as fast. Drafted by Washington in the 2nd Round (32nd overall pick) in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft, Jim Carey amassed a career record of 79-65-16, and appeared in 172 regular season games (and 10 playoff contests) for Washington, Boston, and St. Louis.
The summer of 1994 saw the Capitals management part ways with veteran goaltender Don Beaupre, and in seeking a new starting goalie, the Caps took a chance on Carey; a Dorchester, Massachusetts native, and former University of Wisconsin standout.
The 1994-1995 NHL season had been shortened by a lockout to 48 games. During that campaign, Carey took the net and exceeded all expectations by going 18-6-3 with a 2.13 goals against average (GAA), a .913 save percentage, and four shutouts. For his effort, Carey finished third in the Vezina Trophy voting (for the league’s best goaltender), second in votes for the Calder Trophy (for the league’s top rookie), and was voted to the NHL All-Star team.
After the Capitals faltered in the first round of the 1994-1995 playoffs, Jim Carey came back in the following season (1995-1996) and was even better than his breakout performance. He posted a league-best nine shutouts, and won 35 games, with a 2.26 GAA and .906 save percentage. At seasons’ end Carey was awarded the Vezina Trophy, had been named to the NHL All-Star Team, and even finished eighth in voting for the Hart Trophy (as the league’s most valuable player).
The Capitals fan base was smitten with the young goalie’s talents, and All-American charm. However the outpouring of love would fade fast, as Carey’s netminding skill seemed to completely disappear overnight. The 1996-1997 season saw Carey appear in 40 games for Washington, and he struggled mightily; allowing soft goals, showing complete loss of confidence, and seeing his once lofty statistics drop like a lead balloon. It takes a ton of skill, mental composure, and the ability to adapt in pro hockey. It was apparent to Capitals management that Jim Carey was no longer their “Ace” in the net. On March 1st, 1997 (at the NHL trade deadline), the Washington Capitals pulled a blockbuster deal with Boston; sending center Jason Allison, winger Anson Carter, goaltender Jim Carey, a 3rd round pick in the 1997 draft (Lee Goren), and conditional pick in the 1998 draft to the Bruins for center (and future Hall of Famer) Adam Oates, goaltender Bill Ranford, and (not-so-loved) winger Rick Tocchet. The acquisition of Oates and Ranford made solid (and often glorious) impacts on the Washington Capitals, with Oates eventually helping the Caps to their first Stanley Cup final in 1997-1998. Billy Ranford, for all of his veteran netminding prowess caught the injury bug in DC, yet paved the way for Capitals legend Olaf Kolzig to take over the goaltending duties. As for Tocchet, the former Philadelphia Flyer, Pittsburgh Penguin, and Bruin was never happy about his trade to DC, and only appeared in 13 games with Washington before departing in the offseason to the delight of die-hard Capitals fans.
Having shed the once rising star Carey, the Capitals moved on, found some success shortly after, and received 15 years (overall) of work from Kolzig. Jim Carey was a relatively fast blip on the Capitals long history. After his trade to Boston, Carey quickly fell out of favor with rigid Bruins head coach Pat Burns. He was forced to the AHL to work on his game, and yielded the net to former Capitals prospect Byron Dafoe. Sadly Jim Carey never regained his confidence after demotion to the Providence Bruins, and at seasons’ end he was without an NHL contract. A season later Carey got a third shot at redemption with a professional try-out on the St. Louis Blues, but he faltered in the pre-season and only saw 4 games in a St. Louis uniform before bouncing out of professional hockey. His last netminding took place in the (former) IHL with the Cincinnati Cyclones, and sadly he sustained a concussion in his second game with the team. He hung up his goalie skates shortly after.
Jim Carey had parlayed his Vezina Trophy year into an $11M, 4-year contract with Washington. Considering his entry-level deal and his huge payday following his rise, Carey made over $13M in his pro hockey career. Being a “smart kid,” and never having banked on NHL success in the first place, Carey was always wise with his money, and he certainly did not take his brief and wildly up and down NHL career for granted.
Jim “Ace” Carey left professional hockey at the age of 25. Being a young man, with some cash in his pocket, his options were endless. Migrating south, Carey later earned a business degree at the University of Tampa, and sought out to find success in the financial world. He would add entrepreneur to his resume as CEO and President of a medical billing solutions company, and at last report still lives in Florida. I am sure from time to time he turns on his TV and catches a Washington Capitals game, or glances over at his memorabilia and wonders what could have been in the NHL.
Well, Ace…you are remembered.
By Scott Zweibel